Sometimes a little too breezy, but Standiford’s glimpse into the greed-is-good Gilded Age will interest business-history...

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MEET YOU IN HELL

ANDREW CARNEGIE, HENRY CLAY FRICK, AND THE BITTER PARTNERSHIP THAT TRANSFORMED AMERICA

Life lesson number one for a would-be robber baron: Don’t cross Andrew Carnegie.

Prolific genre novelist Standiford (Havana Run, 2003, etc.) turns to fact to portray the fraught partnership of steelmaker Carnegie and Henry Frick, supplier of industrial coke to the world. Frick was a tough dealer, but Carnegie was tougher; when the coke producers of Pittsburgh agreed to fix a price of $1.50 per ton for the stuff, Carnegie countered that he would pay Frick $1.15 a ton, “and there would be no further discussion of the matter.” Frick became the lesser of equals as the chairman of Carnegie Steel and enjoyed considerable freedom of movement as Carnegie spent more and more of his later life in his native Scotland and left routine administration to Frick and Carnegie Steel president Charles Schwab. Indeed, Frick orchestrated Carnegie Steel’s response to the Homestead Strike of 1892; although Carnegie was doubtless troubled by the hired strikebreakers’ brutality, “the fact is that he had chosen to absent himself from Homestead when he was well aware of what was coming.” For his trouble, Frick was nearly assassinated by the anarchist Alexander Berkman, who shot and stabbed him. When he recovered, Frick busied himself pushing out executives whom he felt insufficiently served his interests, including the superintendent of the Homestead plant. For various reasons, Carnegie and Frick, never fond of each other, began to develop a serious mutual dislike; as Standiford writes, plots thickened as Carnegie looked for ways to force Frick out while Frick, it appears, tried to leverage the company in what Carnegie regarded as “a despicable exercise in speculation.” Frick remained a member of the board when Carnegie sold out to Andrew Mellon, but he seems to have dedicated his later years to one-upping Carnegie’s charitable work (“ ‘I’m going to make Carnegie’s place look like a miner’s shack,’ Frick told friends”) and otherwise spreading poison about the old man.

Sometimes a little too breezy, but Standiford’s glimpse into the greed-is-good Gilded Age will interest business-history buffs.

Pub Date: May 10, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4767-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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